Fabio Sireci’s astounding wines from Feudo Montoni deserve our attention.

Above: an aerial shot of the legendary Feudo Montoni farm in Cammarata township (Agrigento province), Sicily. Image courtesy of the estate.

Last night 80+ guests in Houston logged into Zoom for a virtually guided wine tasting with Fabio Sireci and Melissa Muller, legacy owners and grape growers at the historic Feudo Montoni farm in the central Sicilian mountains.

It was one of the most thrilling events in the weekly virtual wine dinner series hosted by my client Roma restaurant. That was thanks in no small part to Fabio’s wonderfully aphoristic way of talking about his wines and land. The brio of the evening was also owed tale’s from chef and cookery book author Melissa’s incredible journey: first falling in love with Fabio’s wines at her own restaurants in New York and ultimately marrying him in what is as close to a fairytale as you can get (a double rainbow appeared the day they first met on the grounds of the estate, no joke).

But beyond these two lovely, thoughtful people and the verve with which they talk about their wines and farm, the wines were what really stole the show. There is a clarity and vibrance in Fabio’s winemaking that few of his peers can even aspire to.

The Montoni farm is one of Sicily’s most unique properties. It lies inland in the mountains — not on the coast or towering above the Mediterranean on the slopes of a volcano. The vast estate is encircled by a ring formed by its seemingly endless wheat fields. Because of his vineyards’ isolation from the rest of the island, they are protected from contamination like chemical residue from commercial farms or biotype corruption (we spoke at length last night about his distinctive Nero d’Avola clone, developed through centuries of selection massale).

The high-altitude Grillo, a grape Fabio’s family has grown for generations, was deeply mineral in character, with notes of white flowers and underripe stone fruit.

Tracie and I were both floored by the rosé from Nerello, another grape that Fabio’s family has grown for generations, long before the variety became trendy. It was super fresh but also lean and razor-focused in its red and berry fruits. Delicious. And I loved Fabio’s take on how Nerello is a grape that doesn’t know whether it’s red or white (much more discussion needed on this; really interesting).

The showstopper was the cement-vinified Nero d’Avola. Fabio’s biotype makes for wines slightly lighter in color and more lithe in the glass than most wines from this variety. But it was the wine’s freshness and “transparency” of fruit (rich but not overly ripe red fruits) that really wowed Tracie and me. What an incredible wine! And that was just his entry-tier Nero d’Avola!

“Fabio says that tonight the experience was unique,” wrote Melissa after our call. “And the sensation is that the world is small and it felt as if we were all in the same house chatting and tasting wine together. The miracle of the wine is the creation of smiles and friendships and union in our marvelous world.”

It was a truly enchanting evening. And it reminded me, all over again, why I love Italian wine and why I love what I do for a living.

If you’ve never tasted these wines, search them out. Grab your favorite Verga novella and enjoy them slowly, patiently, and quietly. Savor every last drop.

Let’s be honest: Texas restaurants haven’t really been enforcing the mask mandate. Abbott’s decision to lift the requirement, while reckless, won’t make a difference.

Image via Adobe Stock.

Let’s be clear: when Texas governor Abbott issued a mask order last summer, it didn’t require all Texans to wear masks in public; it required Texas businesses to require that their customers wore masks while frequenting their places of business.

And let’s be honest: Texas restaurants, which have been allowed to offer some capacity of dine-in service for the better part of the last 12 months, have done little to enforce the mask mandate. And most restaurateurs have only cursorily observed the capacity limitations.

But then again, what could have restaurateurs actually done to enforce the mandate? While most are not reckless, people who have frequented restaurants over the last 12 months generally didn’t recognize the importance and urgency of wearing a mask. If they were hanging out in restaurants, they clearly didn’t put much stock in donning a mask for the safety of others. And after all, even with the mask mandate in place, you still needed to take the mask off to eat and drink.

Beyond the Quixotic challenges of enforcing mask mandates and dining capacity restrictions, the restaurants still open are mostly just trying to survive. When you’ve poured your life’s savings and work into a restaurant and you’re barely getting by, what are you supposed to do when someone enters your business without a mask and proceeds to order a $200 bottle of wine?

Our family decided early on not to frequent restaurants (although we support restaurants by doing take-out orders at least a couple of times a week). But I have spent time in dining rooms on more than one occasion over the last year. No one at our house is going hungry and we have little to complain about, all things considered. But the scarcity of work has forced me to take every copywriting job I can get. And sometimes, those gigs require my physical presence, whether to sample the food or take a photo of a chef or restaurant interior.

The bottomline is that restaurants in Texas have done little to enforce or even observe the business mask mandate. Even those restaurateurs who recognize the wisdom of mask wearing and social distancing have had little choice but to accept the fact that guests often refuse to wear masks. Nearly every occasion that I have spent time in a restaurant, masks were overwhelmingly “optional.” And I’m only relating my experience in Houston, a major metropolitan area. When we’ve traveled outside of Houston to visit family, we’ve seen restaurants packed with maskless guests as if there were no pandemic at all.

I believe that Abbott’s decision to lift the mask requirement is as reckless as it is myopic. But that’s not going to change what’s been happening in Texas restaurants over the last 12 months.

Italy has its first Master of Wine: Gabriele Gorelli from Montalcino.

Above: Gabriele Gorelli tasting in Chablis (image via his Facebook).

Last week, the Institute of the Masters of Wine announced the names of its 10 newest members, including Gabriele Gorelli (above), the first Italian Master of Wine.

The qualification was conferred after Gabriele presented his thesis on “Quercetin precipitation in Brunello di Montalcino. What are the organic fining options to prevent this phenomenon occurring in bottle?” (Quercetin is a flavanol that can cause wine to become hazy when it takes solid form.)

Born and bred in Montalcino, Gabriele comes from a family steeped in grape-growing, winemaking, and the culture of wine.

He is also the co-founder of one of Italy’s highest-profile marketing and branding firms whose clients include some of Italy’s top wineries.

According to his biography on the institute’s website, he also has his own wine- and restaurant-focused marketing consulting company.

The fact that Italy has its first Master of Wine is not insignificant. Many wine industry observers and trade members have lamented the under-representation of Italian wines and wineries in the curricula adopted by institutional wine educators. It’s no secret that Italy is often considered — wrongly — to be a second-class citizen in the commonly embraced caste system of international wines.

The fact that he is a favorite son of Montalcino, home to one of Italy’s most highly regarded luxury wine brands, has many Italians cheering for him and his new title.

The news of his qualification was first reported in Italy by WineNews.it.